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Edmonton’s frozen art

 How Ice on Whyte brought
its act to the downtown

An ice sculpture of what looks like a Bigfoot by Peter Fogarty at the Sherlocks Pub Downtown.  (Brooklyn Cooper)

By Brooklyn Cooper

THIS WINTER, for the first time, downtown patios are decorated with ice sculptures by award-winning artists – as the ones on the South Side have been since 2003, when the Ice on Whyte festival was founded by the Old Strathcona Business Association and local artists.

“Our events are really designed to gather people, and to get people outdoors to add some beauty to people’s lives,” says Jill Roszell, who has been producer of Ice on Whyte for the past four years. “So, we took those values, and asked ourselves: What can we do if we can’t actually do a competition and a festival site? So, we said: Let’s just put them out for the public to see in places that are a little bit protected. And that’s what we did.”

In normal times, Ice on Whyte is an international ice carving competition with teams of artists that come from all over the world, including select local teams. Carvers must submit applications to compete, since there’s a level of qualification required.

In 2011, the festival was taken over by the Ice on Whyte Festival Society and, five years later, the society attained registered charitable status, which ensured its long-term sustainability.

The festival society is sanctioned by the National Ice Carver’s Association and the Canada Cup of Ice Carving. Like Ottawa’s Winterlude and Ice Magic in Lake Louise, Ice on Whyte is one of the highest-level competitions in Canada.

This year, the festival turned to local artists to carve the sculptures, with three out of the four artists returning from previous years. This year’s carvers are Mark Berge, Steve Buzak, Peter Fogarty and Cliff Vacheresse.

All sculptures are carved in their given zones since each ice block weighs approximately 70 kilograms. The smaller carvings are usually two blocks, and the larger carvings can be as many as eight or 10 blocks.

This encourages people
to get outside of their houses

Because of COVID, the society can’t hold a festival this year. Rather, they’re calling the exhibition an “activation,” Roszell says.

“This encourages people to get outside of their houses and have something interesting to see on their walks.”

This year, the festival society has also been working with the downtown business association, and the hope is that the sculptures will help draw foot traffic to the city core, Roszell says.

Since the tours of the sculptures are self-guided, they are free – and the sculptures are all visible from the sidewalks.You can even augment your tour by downloading the Story City app for behind-the-scenes information and video footage about the artists.

The aim of the Ice on Whyte Festival Society is to encourage the community to support local restaurants while touring the sculptures, and offers several contests with such prizes as a one-night stay at the Metterra Hotel on Whyte, a chef box for two, and gift certificates for participating restaurants. And if you visit at least five sculpture locations, you can enter to win a chef kit for four from Chef Table Living – Food Bike Tours.

According to its website, the society’s ambition is to be a premier festival producer, and to highlight Old Strathcona as a tourist destination. And the mission of the activation is to encourage people to enjoy art and culture as an interactive outdoor activity – and to remind them that their local restaurants are open again.

In response to which sculpture is the favourite, Roszell says.

“I find them all kind of different, and they’re all wearing the weather differently, which has also been interesting because last weekend was not good for ice sculptures outside. But they’re doing okay, which is also a testament to the artists because they do their best to have something that can withstand the weather.”

“I’ve seen lots of people stopping by and taking pictures and looking at [the ice sculptures,] which is really what it’s about.”

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